Bagan is without a doubt one of the must-see highlights of Myanmar. More than 2,000 temples built between the 9th and 13th centuries stretch over nearly 50 km2 of flatland along the banks of the splendid Irrawaddy River. The Bagan Archaeological Site is one of these truly magical places, along with the temples of Angkor in Cambodia. Admiring the sunset over the temples of Bagan as far as the eye can see is the highlight of any trip to Myanmar. The luckiest will stay several days in order to take the time to discover the temples at different hours of the day. The intensity of the light changes places and points of view and is a vivid playground for photographers.
To move around in this fascinating “open-air museum”, you can choose between a horse-drawn carriage (slow, not very comfortable but picturesque), car with a driver or a classic or electric bike (very practical for visiting the site and taking full advantage of the landscapes without exhausting pedaling). Depending on the length of your stay in Bagan, you can vary the modes of transport in order to increase the number of experiences.
For an exceptional view, it is also possible to fly over the temples in a hot air balloon – another of the highlights of Myanmar. A hot air balloon ride over the temples of Bagan offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Among the must-see temples of Bagan: the Ananda temple, one of the oldest and best known, the Shwezigon pagoda, the most revered in Bagan which houses a relic of Buddha, and the Shwesandaw pagoda which can be climbed in the evening to admire the sunset over the plains.
In the south of the Shan State, at an altitude of 900 meters, Inle Lake is an extraordinary destination and one of the highlights of Myanmar. It is now the second tourist center in the country after Bagan. On this large lake of around 100 km2 stilted houses, vegetable gardens and floating villages spring up. And all around the lake, there are pagodas, historic sites, hot springs and even a vineyard producing a white wine very pleasant to drink on in the evening on your terrace. On the surface of the lake, the vegetable gardens hold on to an assembly of mud and plants held by stakes which prevent them from drifting. This mixture can be up to a meter thick. On the emerged part, grow tomatoes, squash and cucumbers.
The Intha people, who cultivate on the lake, move in a boat with an amazing technique which consists in wrapping a leg around the oar. Take a boat ride with them and observe the technique up close!
Mandalay, the last royal capital of Burma, is now the second largest city in the country. The charms of Mandalay are discovered in its pagodas, its hills and its surrounding countryside more than in the city itself which is quite noisy. We recommend you to set out on a discovery of the Mahamuni pagoda, climb the Mandalay hill, and walk in the ShweNandaw monastery. There are so many places where you can soak up the culture of the country, admire sculptures, and the view of the Irrawaddy River. Not to be missed, a dozen kilometers from Mandalay, lies the extraordinary U Bein Bridge in Amarapura, another former royal capital. This teak bridge, over a kilometer long, is a marvel of simplicity. At sunset, it is possible to stroll across the bridge, mixing with the monks and the villagers, and experience in person one of the highlights of Myanmar.
Whether you choose to call it Yangon (its new name) or Rangoon, we are talking about the same cosmopolitan and exciting city, the former capital of Burma. Since 2005, the capital has been transferred to Naypyidaw, but Yangon remains the economic capital and the main gateway to the country. After 50 years of dictatorship and immobility, Yangon’s decaying colonial buildings are still present today, a reminder of its earlier days. The city is currently in turmoil with numerous building sites and heavy traffic due to the constant influx of new workers looking for opportunities. Nowadays, old houses rub shoulders with modern buildings. Do not miss the city pagodas and especially the wonderful and impressive Shwedagon pagoda. You also have to wander the small streets, the markets, at the edge of lakes Kandawgyi and Inya in order to soak up the charm of Yangon and meet its friendly inhabitants, which are in themselves, one of the timeless highlights of Myanmar.
Located about 180 km from Yangon, the Golden Rock is an important place of Buddhist pilgrimage. Also known as Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, this gigantic rock more than six meters in diameter stands at 1,200 meters above sea level. According to legend, the reason it defies gravity and holds its position perched on a cliff edge is thanks to a hair of Buddha. This is why every Burmese Buddhist wishes to go at least once in his life to make a pilgrimage to the Golden Rock.
This sacred rock is covered with gold leaves that pilgrims have stuck on every day for centuries, however, women are not allowed to get too close to the rock or glue gold leaf. Most tourists get there by car and finish on foot, but it is also possible to trek the 11 km to reach this highlight of Myanmar, provided you are in good physical condition (the path is steep) and have good shoes.